After tech success, Israel seeks life sciences growthJun. 7, 2013
Inspired by its success in high-tech electronics and software, Israel is hoping to pull off the same trick in life sciences.
The Mediterranean country already boasts the world's biggest generic drug maker and a host of smaller research-oriented companies. Now it aims to build on that foundation, offering incentives to multinationals to invest in a biopharmaceutical incubator fund, set up research centers and collaborate with local firms.
Israel is first in the world for the number of medical device patents per capita and second in biopharmaceuticals. And its life science industry is young but growing fast, featuring firms such as Protalix, Kamada and Gamida Cell.
"That is a core from which something else can happen," said Ruti Alon, a general partner in Pitango, Israel's biggest venture capital firm.
One area in life sciences that has succeeded in attracting multinational attention is the medical device sector. Of the $503 million raised by the broader sector last year, 61 percent went to medical device companies, according to the Israel Venture Capital Research Center. There are about 500 medical device firms in Israel that generated more than $1.6 billion in exports in 2011.
Oded Cohn, director of IBM's research lab in Haifa, attributed the success of the medical device sector to the country's strength in software and hardware.
Also, multinationals prefer investing in medical devices because they require less funding than drug firms.
Benny Zeevi, co-chair of the Israel Advanced Technology Industries organization, said it can take 15 years for an idea to become a drug compared with 8-1/2 years for a medical device.
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